JP and I watched Interstellar a couple of months back. I was fascinated, and still am with how they depict the concept of time.
As a human, I have occasionally been irritated that we are confined to the dimension of time. Though a world where we are not would probably be very different than our world now. Probably very bizzare. To us. But just the idea that we can only go forward along this continuum at this pace, and the past only lives in memory for us is frustrating at times.
Except… when you think about how just because we are confined by time, doesn’t mean that time is the same everywhere, or even that everything in existence is confined by it.
God is outside of time, and can do things outside of time. And I believe that he does.
Let’s go back to Jewish History a little bit, of which I know little. But we met a new friend last night- a great evening that I’ll share about someday- who shared with me that the Jewish understanding of the Passover, even when it was celebrated years and years after the original event, wasn’t that they were just commemorating what once had happened. No, they believed they were participating in that same exact, one time event. That the bounds of time were broken as the spiritual interfaced with the physical once in actuality, but for us humans over and over again throughout the years.
Because… time. Things can happen outside of time.
Likewise, the Eucharist is not simply remembering the Last Supper, an event that happened once 2,000 or so years ago. It is an actual particpation in. that. event. The same event. The same one that Jesus and the original disciples were at.
I’m sorry Catholics, but why do you not get more excited about this? No other Christian church has that! Not only do you get to enter into the actual physical presence of Jesus each week at Mass, but every celebration of the Eucharist is breaking us out of the confines of time for a moment and allowing us to participate in one of the biggest events that our entire faith hinges upon! The sacrifice Jesus willingly made for our sins by pouring out His body and His blood for us. This is no ordinary situation!
It is almost too much.
So, thank you Interstellar. Thank you for being a very thought-provoking movie. For allowing me to understand time differently. And for helping me to more greatly understand the significance of the Eucharist at Mass.
I thought I would have to write about a dozen posts about Mary in order to work my way through all these things that were at the very least foreign to me, and at the very most concerning to me regarding Marian Theology. Who knows, I may still end up with that many. But for now I’m at a point where I can say:
Ok, Teachings of the Catholic Church in Regard to Mary. Ok.
I can nearly promise that I will have additional questions about this issue for a while to come. But ok.
Mostly because there has been a logical answer for everything so far. Though my heart is far from being at total ease with it, mostly I think at this point due to the utter unfamiliarity of this line of thinking.
Here is a very, very brief overview on the issues I struggled with and what has helped me.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary: The idea of Mary as the Ark of The New Covenant, and the parallels to the necessity of flawlessness in the original Ark. The idea of Mary as the New Eve, and the parallels to the original Eve being conceived without Original Sin. The idea that all Christians acknowledge the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in someone until their sins have been washed away by the grace of Jesus, and the logic that sin would have needed to have been washed away in Mary before Jesus could physically dwell inside her.
Mary’s Ever Virginity: I haven’t looked into this a ton yet, but my main argument against this as a Protestant has been the Bible verse that says Mary didn’t have union with Joseph “until” Jesus was born. Then, learning about the meaning and usage of that particular word “until” in other places in the Bible and that it wasn’t a given that the word meant what we use it as in most instances today.
Mary Queen of Heaven: The Jewish concept of the Queen Mother, and the passage in Revelation describing Mary are compelling.
Praying the Hail Mary and other Prayers to Mary: Catholics believe in the Communion of Saints, that as a whole body of believers, those of us here on earth and those in heaven consist as the Communion of Saints. Just as I ask my girlfriends to pray for me, asking others in the Communion of Saints that might not be so distracted (because of being in heaven) as we are with the day to day burdens we face to pray for us isn’t that much of a stretch. The Hail Mary is quoting scripture and giving Mary the acknowledgement of her special place in God’s redeeming plan, and then asking for her prayers for us on our behalf.
Mary’s Life-Long Sinlessness: Again, another one I haven’t looked into intensely yet. But, knowing how much our parenting affects our children’s human brains, the idea of Jesus needing to grow up in a home where his human mind wouldn’t be at all stifled, and would be allowed to flourish fully makes sense. Mary did provide Jesus with the human side to his nature… Also, I might be wrong on this, but in John chapter 1, Jesus is referred to as “Full of grace.” So is Mary in Luke chapter 1. To the best of my knowledge, no one else is described like that… and I think that could be an argument for this conclusion as well. That her life was so full of God’s grace, like a cup full to the brim with water, that there wasn’t room for anything else, including sin in it. I’m sure there is more to it, and when I get to that, great. But I doubt I’ll be the one to stump the Church on this one.
So… ok. And “ok” is a whole lot farther along from where I was when I started. I’m looking forward to learning more as time goes on, but it’s no longer one of my main pressing concerns. And, in fact, I could see how this understanding of Mary could be an asset to my faith in Jesus and my prayer life as well.
“Something has changed within me… something I can’t explain.” Those are some of the first words from one of my favorite Broadways songs “Gravity” from the musical Wicked. And that about sums it up for me tonight.
On Christmas Eve this year, we went to our current church for service. The stage was set with wrapped gifts, and tulle, and lights, and a huge wreath in the center. The pews were packed.
On Christmas Morning this year, we went to Mass. We sat as a complete family in the pew, my eyes drawn upward toward the stained glass, and forward toward the altar. The pews, again, were packed.
On Christmas Eve, we listened to and sang with many wonderfully talented singers and children and celebrated with some lovely Christmas songs, followed by a sermon.
On Christmas Morning, we participated in the celebration of Christmas as it has been practiced by the Church for 2,000 years, with a depth and richness to each and every moment.
On Christmas Eve, we heard a call to salvation, with the emphasis on the need to make a decision… the Grande Moment in Protestantism when one becomes a Christian. Salvation as a one-time event, without comment on what that means for the lifetime that follows after.
On Christmas Day, we heard a call to live out a holy Christian life, by imitating God and showing all people, even the ones that are difficult to love, that God is love through a life lived faithfully … a Grande Answer to the question of “I believe… so now what?”
In Protestantism, you hope that one day your child will make a decision to pray a prayer and accept Jesus into his/her heart and life.
In the Catholic Church God’s grace comes to us beginning at baptism and increasing in measure as we grow in our walk with the Lord. Salvation isn’t a one-time event. It’s a a life-long, eternity-filled process.
At church, I send my daughter to another room where she is lovingly cared for and taught Bible stories. But I’m not an active part of it.
At Mass, I sit next to my daughter as she is beginning to respond with the congregation and I realize how much truth about God we can impart to her through this service each week. “Honey, see that up there- that’s Jesus come to meet with us here. We kneel because we are in front of our Savior,” “Do you notice the words we are singing? We are singing the same songs the angels sing in the book of Revelation,” “This creed is how we remember what all Christians have believed ever since Jesus came…”
I understand the difference now between the Protestant church service and the Mass. As I move along this journey, I am finding that, to me, Mass is so much more rich. Mass is so much more beautiful. Mass is so much more reflective of the glory of my God.
I will miss our church so much in so many ways. The people there love Jesus so much. They are the salt of the earth. I hope we find time to spend with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope this journey we have been on brings us all closer to our Savior.
But on Sunday mornings from here on out, you will find me at Mass.
I feel like these posts are kind of random as far as order goes. Mostly because I’m thinking about different things on different days, and, though the entry topics may seem random, writing it all down is part of the way I think linearly.
Today I’m thinking about justice and living comfortably.
Obviously, when I started getting emails and seeing my views go from “zero” to “not zero” on this site, I know that some of the family are starting to follow me on this journey. (Hey, guys) :). But one of the most difficult things for me emotionally as I’m going through this is the fact that I haven’t told any of my close friends yet. I know I have to, and I will, but I don’t know when, or how… I’m concerned for people to feel hurt, for them to feel like I’m saying they are totally wrong, which I’m not. I don’t know who will ask a lot of questions and who will just accept it. I don’t know how to answer all the questions they might have. I’m thinking there will be a lot of in-person conversations so we don’t just abruptly disappear from church life. And some of those conversations might not be easy. Which is okay. They are good friends. But our Christianity is really important to all of us, so it will come as a surprise if I do become Catholic at the end of this.
Onward. I’m not suggesting that the members of the Catholic Church is immune to apathy, but I do believe it is fact that the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. And I also know that you can go to some Protestant churches and even attend there for a while without knowing what they are doing to reach the lost on a local and/or global scale. Not all. Some. But it’s still concerning.
Social justice is my heart. Freeing the captives, and all that. I have some small ministries that are a big part of my life right now that I am so compelled to be a part of. I know I’m nothing special on my own, but I also know that God has asked me to be obedient in some things that aren’t super comfortable to do… so I go.
I was once told by an acquaintance that she knew I “was really into social justice” like it was a phase that would pass. I’ve also been told to “be careful about having a works mentality” and that I “can’t do everything.” I felt like it made some people uncomfortable for me to suggest that having our faith in Jesus meant we were obligated to feed hungry tummies, clothe those who are naked, minister to those at the bottom of society, etc. There is a heart for a relationship with God, but a lack of focus on the implications of that relationship on how you live your life towards those in need.
I feel the need to defend that this isn’t everyone. And that similar outlooks probably exists on both sides of the Reformation. But I’ve often felt like I have been rocking the boat a bit for a while now in some situations, and I am concerned that American Christianity leans this way more often than it should.
Which brings me to Pope Francis. As I went through my phase of seeking out the truth in Christianity (which I talk more about in my About Me page,) and was getting so frustrated with the inward nature of how Christianity is lived out in America… like this idea that my faith is supposed to serve me and meet my needs somehow as a primary focus, I notice the Catholic Pope.
And there Pope Francis is … saying stuff like this and living a life to back it up:
“None of us can think we are exempt from concerns for the poor and for social justice.” -Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 2013, Ch.4, #201
I think if you asked 1,000 American Christians what the biggest thing they struggle with is, you might get a decent amount that share they like being comfortable. I am just not sure that Christianity and comfort mix well. And if that is our struggle as Christians in this country, I hope it lights a fire under us to do something about it and make a change.
I like the Church’s global emphasis on charity, and the accountability it puts on its members to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world through good works. I also like that so much of what the Church requires of its members is uncomfortable.
The whole idea of Christianity, and perhaps more thoroughly articulated in Catholicism is that you conform your life to God’s will, and make your own self smaller, while Christ becomes larger. It is uncomfortable to deny our selfish desires and do things that make God the main focus. Because of sin, we don’t tend there.
For example, it’s uncomfortable, probably, to say your sins out loud during confession… etc… but it’s also, probably, so very good for you.
Side note- I also love all these practices of the Church because in Protestantism you can go to church on Sunday, and sometimes have a small group Bible Study during the week. Other than that, you’re pretty much on your own to find fellowship during the week or have your own personal devotion time, which, by the way, I’ve never been good at in my adulthood. Especially lately. I pray more often than I read the Bible in a personal devotion, mostly because of my growing nervousness to read such a deeply theological book and attempt to accurately get at the intended meaning of the text without some sort of trustworthy guidance. And I’ve been struggling to find Protestant authors who I feel comfortable with as far as theology is concerned (Except C.S. Lewis, love me some C.S. Lewis), and just kind of stopped looking. I was going to read some G.K. Chesterton before this whole thing started, and then recently found out he became Catholic later in life! Fascinating. I’ll get to him.
So, other than reading the Bible on my own, I have had few “official” or “suggested” practices of the faith to help support my growth in Christianity. If I become Catholic, I could go to Mass every day if I wanted to. I have 2 kids so that isn’t likely, but it’s there. Every day. There is Eucharistic Adoration, and a whole bunch of other ways that the faith is practiced throughout the week and on Sundays with the richness of the Mass. The structure of it all is very appealing to me.
To sum up, I guess I would say: I’m nervous to talk to my friends about this, and that is difficult for me. The fact that some family members are reading at least part of this journey as I go through it is nice. It’s nice to have encouragement. I would also say, Pope Francis drew me closer to the Church as I was growing in frustration at the inward nature of the Christian church in America. And, lastly, I hope to live a life of obedience, not comfort, and I think that the best place for me to do that could possibly be the Catholic church.
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again… coming from where I am coming from the focus on Mary sometimes weirds me out. And I’ve kind of been avoiding it for a week or so because I’m concerned this will be the one thing that I can’t come to terms with. But I’m also not afraid to wrestle with it and try and understand.
This post will focus on the Immaculate Conception.
Protestants believe that God chose Mary to have Jesus and used her, a normal person in need of God’s saving grace, in part of His salvation plan, just like he used a lot of other sinful people in his salvation plan. David did a lot of bad stuff, Moses, Paul, etc. The Protestant tradition doesn’t believe that Mary was special outside of being chosen to be Jesus’ mom. I guess that would mean that theoretically God could have chosen any faithful woman to bear His son…
What I have learned is that Catholics believe Mary did, indeed need God’s saving Grace, but that God imparted that grace to her, in anticipation of her role, at the moment of her conception. Hence, Mary was Immaculately Conceived.
Interestingly, it seems as though Martin Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception at least during the early years of his separation from the Catholic Church, but omitted some of those references in later editions of his writings, so his opinion might have changed, or it got edited out somehow. The reason I know this is I was curious to find out what the early Protestants believed on the matter. If you agree with the Reformation, then you would probably be inclined to assume Luther’s change of opinion was due to emerging more accurate theology… or if you are Catholic, you would perhaps say he lost the ability to correctly interpret theology outside of the authority of the Church. Either way, it is thought-provoking.
Also interestingly, I was in a college class on Modernity and Poetry when the professor indicated the Immaculate Conception was in reference to Jesus’ conception, and I knew enough to correct him. I still find that amusing. We engaged in some interesting emails about God after that, but I’ve known this teaching of the Catholic Church for a while now. Just has never made any sense to me.
Here’s the thing that got me tonight to make at least some progress. Hence the Bon Jovi quote. It’s like I’m halfway there and livin’ on a prayer to understand the rest. I’m tired. 🙂
I think that all Christians agree the Holy Spirit, the way that God resides in humanity today, can only reside in a person once they have received the saving grace of Jesus. For Protestants, the belief is that grace comes to you upon a decision to follow Christ, for Lutherans and Catholics, at least part of that saving grace is given to you at your baptism. The moment when the stain of Original Sin is wiped away.
Ok, so if God can’t spiritually reside in us while we bear the stain of Original Sin, it does make sense that Jesus (both God and Man) could not reside in Mary while she bore the stain of Original Sin inside herself. And the Catholic teaching that saving grace was given to Mary ahead of Jesus’ actual life on earth makes sense.
However, I’m only halfway there because I’m not sure why that grace had to be given to Mary upon her conception, instead of upon Jesus’ conception. And that is my current question, one I will have to work through at a later time.
Here’s the thing about Church Membership. We went through membership class at our last 2 Protestant churches. The only reason we left the first church was due to a move, but… just for a bit of context, one membership class was a lovely dinner over at the pastor’s house (who we still care about very much and admire as an example of living out one’s faith in all areas), and the other membership class was a few weeks for an hour (also led by very sincere people) to help us understand a statement of faith that was relatively short- could be read through in a couple of minutes.
Ok. That’s the context.
The Catholics have THIS:
Here’s another major difference between Catholics and Protestants… if it isn’t explicitly laid out in the Bible (though Protestants disagree on a lot of what is supposedly explicitly laid out in the Bible), we don’t typically touch it. Some call it “Christian Liberty.” On issues nonessential to salvation, there are some truths that God has allowed us to interpret for ourselves while we are here. That has made so much sense to me for so many years. But now, I’m thinking… there is actually a truth about all these issue we allow Christian liberty for… like either Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist or he isn’t, it’s not like the truth behind any of these things are actually ambivalent. So is the Protestant church’s stance that God has chosen to keep those things secret? Then the Catholic church’s stance would be that God has revealed the details of the Christian theology that aren’t explicitly laid out in the Bible through the Holy Spirit to the Church. And that the Holy Spirit has helped the Church have correct interpretation of those things that are in the Bible as well.
I just keep getting drawn back to the unity of theology in the Catholic church. I just don’t think I agree anymore that God intended Christianity to have so many divisions. That isn’t unity, that isn’t a united Body. In some ways it’s amazing that with all the theology they have sorted through, that the Catholic faith has stayed united at such a large scale. It seems even unlikely- were it not for the Holy Spirit… perhaps.
And, finally, I think that the unity the Catholic church experiences here might be more similar to the complete union we will have with our Savior in heaven one day. It’s better to be together than to be on our own.
I like that the membership process takes a long time. I felt like the process at our current church was too quick and simple, and casual even. We dove about a centimeter deep into theology. Church isn’t about being a cool place to hang out. The theology is important. I’m thankful to have the time and an abundance of resources to help me along the way.
This week was a quiet one for me… partly because holiday preparations and a holiday/birthday party on Saturday took up some time, but also because I was working through a part of our RCIA book on the human and divine nature of Jesus, early heresy’s and the literal interpretation of the gospels. I really enjoyed learning about all of it, though it didn’t seem any different from what the universal church, as in both Catholics and Protestants believe. But, again, the emphasis on the importance of the history and working out the details of the theology so it is sound and correct was impressed upon me.
This morning we went to Mass with some of JP’s siblings, who were in town for the weekend. Obviously they are excited and supportive and interested in this process as well.
It was good for me to explain the process I’ve been going through with this search… I was able to describe my concerns/frustrations with Christianity as practiced in Protestant America. Having to articulate your thinking really helps bring some clarity. My main points centered on Sola Scriptura, Once Saved Always Saved, and that leading to apathy, my desire to be connected with the history of Christianity and practice the faith like the early church practiced it, the tangible ways to practice and grow in your faith that the Catholic church has vs. the Protestant church which mostly relies on personal Bible study and strong sermons, the reverence for God in the Catholic church and the rich symbolism… among a few other things. And how, my frustrations over time have been leading me to all of a sudden realize I might be thinking more like a Catholic than a Protestant.
I wish I could just blink and understand all that I need to understand to be ready to make a decision, but I know it’s going to take time. I’m looking forward to Christmas break when we will have several days off where I can hopefully carve out time to continue learning and working through things. I will be interested to see where we end up next Advent season.